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Agenda 2001: Add Energy, Politics to List

by Editorial Board
Tri-City Herald, January 2, 2001

Today, the Herald editorial board shares the rest of its agenda for 2001.

In Monday's column, we discussed our to-do list for some perennial Tri-City issues: salmon recovery, water management and Hanford cleanup.

We continue today with a couple of unforeseen developments that will require this community's attention in the new year.

Sort out, fix Northwest energy crunch

The volatility of the West Coast's energy market has serious potential to become a major threat to the region this year, just months after it seemingly appeared out of the blue.

Not even the Northwest Power Planning Council seemed fully aware of the extent of the problem until early 2000, when it issued a report warning there is a 24 percent chance power supply will fail to meet demand at some point by 2003.

The reality of that threat hit home twice this year. The first time was this summer when California came perilously close to blackouts during a heat wave and asked the Northwest to forget momentarily about measures to help struggling salmon runs and instead push as much water through the dams as possible to keep its air conditioners going.

The second time was last month when California reached the brink again just as Washington was experiencing its own power crunch. The circumstances, coupled with California's deregulated power market, sent prices soaring and forced the Northwest not only to bail out its neighbors again, but also pay astronomical prices to keep itself warm.

The Northwest must take several tacks to protect itself from a repeat. This region's power generation has not kept up with growth. A number of power plant proposals are on the horizon. Regulators and policy makers need to review them and expedite those that make the most economic and environmental sense.

We also need answers to the questions surrounding what part private power generators played in creating last year's power crises and what level of public oversight and control such companies must endure. No answer to the crunch is sufficient unless it takes into account whether part or all of the energy shortage was artificially created to make a buck.

Above all, we must protect what we already have. The Bonneville Power Administration, built with federal dollars that Northwest ratepayers repay, provides low-cost power that this region's economy cannot afford to lose. With California leaders openly eying this low-cost power, this region must ensure BPA's future.

Northwest leaders have been adequately warned. It's up to them to make sure we aren't left in the dark.

Adapt to shifting political winds

As Tri-Citians set out to accomplish all of the above in 2001, they'll be doing it in a largely untested political landscape.

Last year's election brought significant change, from the party in the White House to the representatives whom the community will rely on to press its case at the U.S. Capitol and the statehouse.

It also deepened the divide between Western and Eastern Washington, as our differences moved beyond a mismatch of interests to an ideological chasm that pits political party against political party.

In some cases, the new political environment could benefit our cause. The George W. Bush administration isn't likely to allow breaching of the Snake River dams. Then again, its resolve to pursue other avenues of salmon recovery is so far unknown.

We have suffered the loss of political influence in the defeats of state Sen. Valoria Loveland of Pasco, who brought a rural perspective to the state's Democratic majority party, and U.S. Sen. Slade Gorton, who worked Tri-City issues as if they had Seattle-sized voter support riding on them.

Given such changes, Tri-Citians have their work cut out for them. Now more than ever, we cannot rely on others to fight for us. Nor can we afford to indulge our "us-vs.-them" tendencies.

We must establish a good rapport with those who now represent us, in part by including them in discussions about the community's future. And we must build alliances with all parts of the state based on our common interests. Both kinds of relationships will help this community build a broad base of support it will need when the time comes to ask for help.

Shifting political winds tend to disrupt the status quo. Given the record on some of most important issues facing this community this year, that might not be all bad.

Editorial Board
Agenda 2001: Add Energy, Politics to List
Tri-City Herald, January 2, 2001

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